I’d finally accomplished everything I had been working toward for years, but now that I had it, I hated it.
I was a consultant, and I had successfully tripled my prices. I exceeded my competitors’ rates by double. But I had a problem. I realized there was no way I could grow my income further without working even more hours or hiring additional employees. Neither option was attractive to me.
The solution was to create an info-marketing business. It was the only way I could replace my trading-hours-for-dollars working life for one where I could work once and get paid several times. Otherwise I’d never again expand my income, and I’d always be just a few months lost income away from bankruptcy.
But I was comfortable. To get where I was, I’d had to work 70+ hours a week for years. Now I finally had some flexibility. I had built efficient business systems and was able to complete the work I needed to do within 35 hours a week. I was able to take time off for golf lessons and flying model airplanes a couple of afternoons a week. To achieve a new goal of creating an info-marketing business, I would have to go back to working hard. I didn’t want to work hard. I had quickly grown accustomed to my more relaxed lifestyle.
Then my wife and I went shopping for a new home. We looked at big houses with nice pools and a home office for me so I could work uninterrupted and undisturbed at home.
We found one; it was a gorgeous brick—and it had a pool. I settled into that house in my mind, imagining what it would be like to work in the separate home office. I pictured working beside the pool when the weather was nice.
I cut out photos of that nice brick house with a pool and put them on my dresser. I looked at that house every morning when I got dressed and every evening as I got ready for bed. It got me motivated. I imagined what it would be like to work in a nice, quiet home office, to sit by the pool and work on my laptop and even to take business calls out by the pool.
Over the next year, I got moving. I didn’t have a home office, but I did have a large shed. I set up a foldout desk among the lawn mower, weed eater and gas cans. That’s where I wrote my first three e-books. When the smell got bad from all the gas powered equipment, I opened the door to get some air. But I was driven to create businesses that had never existed before, businesses that helped people solve problems in their lives.
It took me three years of work in that shed, but in 2007 we were ready to go house shopping for real. We purchased a home that was a bit smaller than we thought we wanted, but it was really nice. And it had a great backyard for a pool.
My wife planned it all out: kidney-shaped pool, two-story screened enclosure and a natural rock waterfall to hide the hot tub, a hot tub with 60 jets to relax our tired muscles. Within 12 months of moving into the house, the pool and the screened enclosure were finished. Gorgeous!
It was (and is) a wonderful hideaway. Even during the middle of the week, I could sit back there and work on my laptop. I even took calls back there from time to time. It was a long way from working in that shed. And I even had an office for myself. A place with a great desk, plenty of storage and a big leather chair where I could sit in the mornings and write.
But I hated it. I hated it all. I enjoyed working there. It was nice. But I hated it.
This is difficult for me to explain. It’s something I’ve told no one about before. In fact, it is something I’ve just started to understand myself.
The world tells us that selfishness is bad. That people who do things for themselves are bad people. The man who builds a business is as bad as the convenience store thief—because both are motivated by selfish objectives.
I have a giving account, a separate checking account where I deposit a percentage of my monthly income that’s just for charitable donations. I believe in giving back. Yet I felt bad about what I had built for myself. Sometimes I’d look at the waterfall and be disgusted with myself. I would hate it simply because it was mine. And I’d hate myself for earning the money to build it.
I had spent weeks, months and years writing books, crafting sales letters and traveling to events to earn the money for our house and pool. I had invested money in all sorts of products to learn new skills. I had marketed new businesses, only some of which succeeded, and I had worked hard to make all of it happen. I had helped a lot of people solve problems in their lives. But I didn’t think about any of that. I didn’t feel as though I deserved the pool, because I had wanted it so badly.
I’ve learned that selfishness can be a positive motivation. The meaning of the word has been perverted by those who preach that we should be working only for our fellow man. That a man shouldn’t act for himself, but instead should live and work for others. That a goal a man pursues for others is good and any goal a man pursues for himself is bad. Or they tell you to follow God’s will. Would Jesus build a pool and a home office like that for himself?
It has taken me several years to work through my thinking on this. To understand that you and I were put here to succeed and grow. We are meant to pursue our goals and thrive. We can only grow on a long-term basis by providing value to other people, value they freely exchange money to receive. On that basis we are able to accomplish our goals. And when we reach our goals, we can be proud of what we have achieved because it represents a lot of value delivered to others, even if it is in the pursuit of our own selfish goals.
For Steve Jobs, the value he gave was computers and phones. Sam Walton created a distribution system to allow him to offer lower priced products to people around the world. For me, its opening people’s eyes to the possibilities they have in their businesses and lives, giving them the tools to achieve their goals and providing them with encouragement to make it happen.
Today I’m proud of my achievements. I’m pleased with what my work has built. And I’ve got a lot more planned.
What do you think? Is it sacrilege for me to strive for my own selfish goals? Or is it about time I figured all this out? Let me know your thoughts. Scroll down and leave your comments at the bottom of the page. I read every comment and reply when appropriate.